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Computers are becoming more creative – and we’re not ready

Source | LinkedIn : By Laurence Van Elegem

Recently an AI-written novel made it past the first screening round of a Japanese national literary prize. True, the AI still had help from humans and no, it did not win the prize in the end. But what’s groundbreaking here, is that AI is starting to display forms of creativity that have the potential to change the face of humankind.

AI knocking at the door of our safe place

Many of us believe that creativity is one of the last beacons of humanity. It’s what we believe distances us from animals and robots. True, AI systems still mostly excel at routine jobs. And if there is one thing that is wildly complex and utterly ‘un-routine’, then it’s creativity. But the gap is closing. Five years ago, IBM’s AI system Watson won a game of Jeopardy against the top two all-time champions. Early this year AI system AlphaGo cracked the ancient Chinese game Go, one of the most complex that ever existed. These are awe-inspiring breakthroughs.

But they are peanuts compared to what is coming.

AI is not yet as creative as we are. But we are moving fast in that direction.

The game is changing. And data is why.

Companies like Google, Facebook & Alibaba are now throwing themselves into the AI market. If there is one thing that fuels the speed of AI development, it’s data. And it so happens that data is the one thing that characterizes these companies. Just think of how this cornucopia of information will make self-learning systems smarter by the second, without the help of us flawed and inefficient humans.

So no, we have not yet arrived at the point that our artificial systems are as creative as we are. But we are moving in that direction at dizzying speed. A LOT of research has been done in that area, and for quite some time now. In 1973, artist Harold Cohen wrote a computer program called AARON  that paints pictures of increasing sophistication. It began with simple abstract paintings but by the 1990s had `learned’ a more representative style. In 2011, Benjamin Grosser launched his Interactive Robotic Painting Machine, which paints abstract pictures with oil on canvas and responds to the sounds in its environment. And they are just some of the most famous examples in that area.

But the development of creative AI is picking up speed. We all have heard of the robot journalists who can `write’ basic articles based on statistics. And we consider journalism to be a pretty creative job, right? And then there’s that team of IBM researchers that built a program that uses maths, chemistry, and vast quantities of data tochurn out new and unusual recipes. Cooking is an art, right? Early this year McCann Japan announced it has appointed an AI creative director, called AI-CD β (still not 100% sure if it’s a hoax or not, but if it’s true, I could not omit it). Let’s not forget “Sunspring”, the short film authored by `Jetson’, a machine built to write screenplays which was fueled with hundreds of sci-fi TV and movie scripts. True, the film is so strange and incomprehensible that it becomes hilarious. But the point is that people are starting to test and learn the creative possibilities of AI.

Deconstructing creativity

I am 100% certain that a lot of you reading this are already rationalizing. You might be thinking something like “This is not REAL creativity. It has nothing to do with what Edward Hopper or even Albert Einstein have done. Even if AI evolves to a point where it can produce enjoyable screenplays, articles, novels, adverts or music, it will never emulate the pure and raw inventive imagination of us humans.”

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